A New Me: Val Hurst

'A New Me' - Action for Brain Injury Week 2017, 8-14 May

"A New Me"

by Val Hurst

I took so much for granted in my lovely previous life,
My health, my job, my happiness and all the usual strife.
I worked and played hard, was socially convivial
with no time to waste on anything trivial
* * * * * * *
Life was for living, I was always on the go
With my hobbies and projects there was never a “go slow”.
My family and friends were all well aware
of this eternal butterfly, flitting here and there.
* * * * * * *
In the blink of an eye everything changed
The laughter all stopped, life re-arranged.
Whilst hurriedly walking through my own local town
A strong force intruded brutally striking me down.
* * * * * * *
The incident unfolded, everything looked grim
Unconscious with head injury, brain haemorrhaging from within.
Time was of the essence with survival chances slight
However despite all odds, I put up quite a fight.
* * * * * * *
Another time, another place now life has moved along,
And although I am quite different, this model’s improved upon
I’m tolerant and patient with a huge understanding
Where before I was dismissive and somewhat demanding!
* * * * * * *
I’ve learned to take life slowly and pace myself quite well
To try and set up “me time” for relaxing, not to dwell!
But I always find it hard to miss out on events
when “bad days” come a calling, giving cause for my laments!
* * * * * * *
I’ve acquired new skills for dealing with all the “nasty stuff”,
If I’m feeling dizzy and clumsy, people’s comments can be tough,
When I’m dopey and forgetful and/or suffering with fatigue,
I excuse myself politely then take an early leave!
* * * * * * *
“Old me” was good at coping with normal strain and stress,
but “new me” isn’t unfortunately, so I aim to go for less!
I’ve strategies and mechanisms for all times such as these,
Guaranteed to uplift spirits and calm the mind with ease.
* * * * * * *
I’ve overcome what’s lost, and done “all of that grieving”
for the person I once was and the life that I was leading
I’m acquainted with a “new me”, I’m re-built and re-branded
Still a bit outspoken, but learning to be less candid 
* * * * * * *
I’ve accepted all those warts, they’re part of who I am,
‘though slowly making progress and doing all I can.
I survived an awful trauma but it’s very clear to see
I won’t let it destroy life, that’s really NOT “New Me”.

Please tell us about your brain injury

In 2012 scaffolding collapsed on me in the street as I walked past a construction site and I suffered a TBI. I was unconscious with a brain haemorrhage as I lay on the pavement. When I awoke in hospital some 5 hours later I found it hard to comprehend what had happened. Whilst I felt ill, I was sure I would be out of hospital and getting on with my life once more and returning to work by the following Monday!!!

Little did I know at that stage that I had inadvertently stepped into "another world" where life would never be the same again. It took a long time to realise this and I fought with the frustration of it all, determined that it was not going to be like that for me, even if it was that way for other people. Wrong! Because I had been such a live wire, I suffered very much with not being able to return to my job, having to say "no thanks" to invitations out, cancelling plans I had previously made and for someone as independent as me, to ask people for help felt unbearable.

My physical injuries were more sensory based in that my balance was shot to pieces, I was constantly dizzy and nauseous, very clumsy and heavily fatigued. I had an intolerance to artificial lighting, sunshine and noise, with tinnitus pounding in my ears. Migraines were also a unwelcome addition to my list of newly acquired issues. My neck and shoulders took a beating in the accident and have required much rectification work during the past (almost) five years, along with everything else.

I am glad I was unaware from the outset just how long all these afflictions were likely to last because they are still with me today. Thankfully the response from medics, as anyone who has been unlucky enough to suffer a brain injury will tell you, was always "everyone is different, you need to pace and plan your diary, you must rest \more and don't push yourself too hard".

Psychologically I suffered too and again, sought professional help to get through the tough times. Whilst all that is behind me and I have moved on hugely, I do live with the consequences, some in milder form, others not so, but I have accepted that without even thinking about it today, I just get on and deal with it. Good days, bad days, they are what life's all about.

However, I have come a long way since 2012 and I fought every step of the way to not let it all grind me down and beat me. Today, I satisfactorily manage and live with many of the issues I took from the incident. I still receive various treatments where necessary but that is just the way it is. I have always been a "cup half full" personality and I make the best of what I have been handed. I am quite a different person now and in many ways, for the better, so it has not all been bad. I've met some amazing people along the way, from the Air Ambulance who rescued me on that fateful day to the wonderful hospital staff at the QE in Birmingham which in turn lead to an introduction of Headway Worcester who have given me the most fantastic support I could have ever imagined.

What message do you want to send to people through your creative work?

There will be times when everything looks so bleak especially as the realisation sets in that your "old life" cannot continue in the way it had done previously, even though you want it to.

You may feel extremely tired and spend so much time sleeping or napping, going to bed early, waking up late or your sleep may be disturbed due to stress and anxiety making you even more tired. Concentration may be difficult and you find it hard to listen and remember what people say to you. Some days may feel worse than others but you don't understand why. Your confidence and self esteem may plummet because you don't feel the way you used to and life is changing in a way you don't want it to and it's out of your own control.

There are many frightening aspects to receiving a brain injury and indeed, everyone is different. It is complicated and the impact this can create upon your personality and behaviour is huge.

The best piece of advice I can share with you is, accept what has happened and that you will never be exactly the same again. Fight all the way with your issues. Do not give in to the negativity and let it get the better of you. You survived whatever the cause of your ABI or TBI was, so be proud of yourself. Take on board what has happened to you and appreciate it is going to take a long time before you feel better. Don't overstretch yourself because your brain needs energy to heal and if you keep exhausting it by doing too much, it will take longer and you will feel more poorly whilst it re-charges.

Even though you may have been afflicted with many confusing and different issues, given time, you will come to terms with these. Make "plan and pace" your mantra each day for your diary. It takes time and it cannot be rushed but one day, you will accept a "new" you and you will live peaceably with that person and make the most of the new life you have been given. Be good to yourself and don't beat yourself up. Good luck on your journey!

What does A New Me mean to you?

My poem briefly illustrates a comparison with who I was, the events which took place to change my life and how I re-bounded, coming back fighting, albeit with difficulty at times. It also highlights that, whilst you are forced to change your life because of the impact of your ABI/TBI and you have to live with that, there are positives to draw in that you may sub-consciously have gained improved qualities and characteristics, pointing out that you can be a better person. There are always positives to draw even from something so awful.

Are you involved with a Headway group or branch?

I have been involved with Headway Worcestershire since 2012. I became a volunteer in 2014 assisting with administrative work and helping on reception. I have also worked in the day centre at Kidderminster and very much enjoyed working with the clients.

All this boosted my confidence and self esteem hugely, having lost my job and unable to work, and it gave me a feeling of purpose and being useful again. I also attend ad hoc fund raising events for Worcester. In 2015 I joined the Board of Trustees which I enjoy very much and I am looking forward to continuing helping Headway wherever I can.